By Craig Flanagan, Ph.D.
Lifestyle medicine is highly dependent upon patient adherence. Because daily routines increase adherence, any barriers to habit-building become barriers to clinical success.
RHYTHM OF THE MORNING
Your morning probably started off as it always does. Maybe you fed the dog, made coffee, brushed your teeth, showered, checked your weight, your email, maybe your bank account, or the news. Perhaps you take a walk or your medication. The order was likely consistent with the previous day and the days before that. At a certain point, your day becomes unique. Until then, you have a morning routine.
Routines separate the healthy from the unhealthy. You may view your daily rhythms as monotonous or just part of waking up, but taking a closer look reveals just how important these behaviors really are and observational research indicates that individuals in good health engage in highly routine health behaviors. The morning is an opportune time to build a routine. Behaviors become embedded in a daily structure. For newly introduced rituals, the morning represents a fresh start. Accomplishing tasks you view as health-promoting might just lead to a “positive spillover” effect, in which your early act motivates you to make additional healthy decisions.
These a.m. habits tend to fall into one of three categories:
- Taking care of yourself or others
- Tracking a status
- Discovering something new
The HealthSnap mobile application was designed to address each. Fittingly, the measures HealthSnap collects from patients are also best taken in the morning. For example, there’s no better time than the morning to record fasted blood glucose. Patients are also rested for measures of heart rate and blood pressure. Consistency in timing of these measurements also further strengthens their interpretation.
PROMOTING THE ACT, NOT THE OUTCOME
Healthcare professionals have the right intentions and the right information, but sometimes lack a game plan for instilling healthy behaviors. The field of behavioral psychology has taught us that habit building is a strategic process. For instance, emphasis must be on accomplishing the behavior, not what that behavior reveals.
For most, it is a healthy behavior to step on the scale regularly. However, what happens when the scale begins to reveal bad news? We avoid stepping on it. Ever notice that you check your retirement account more often when the stock market is doing well? The “Ostrich Effect” describes our avoidance of bad news. Fear of bad results can lead to an avoidance of important testing and a cessation of daily tracking. Avoiding information only leads to less-informed decision making. For this reason, we should celebrate the habit of stepping on the scale rather than get caught up in the outcome. Staying measured keeps us measuring.
At HealthSnap, we’re in the business of promoting healthy behaviors. In recognition of its physiological relevance and importance for habit building, we’ll continue to design ourselves to be embedded within the mornings of our users.
‘Implementation of a lifestyle change implies that a routine is followed and habits are formed.’
Arlinghaus KR, Johnston CA. The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018;13(2):142-144. Published 2018 Dec 29. doi:10.1177/1559827618818044